DUNEDIN — John Schneider likes what he has heard in his clubhouse so far this spring. The new manager of the Blue Jays understands the frustration of his young shortstop, Bo Bichette, who bluntly told reporters it is time for the team’s young group of talented players to grow up and prove themselves.
“We feel good about our young guys that have kind of matured at the big league level and then we love the additions that we brought in, so we feel like it’s a kind of a good little sweet spot that we’re hitting right now,” Schneider said Thursday at Major League Baseball’s annual Grapefruit League Media Day. “The conversations around camp have been great.”
Around the American League East, everyone is keeping an eye on Toronto.
The talent, with Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alek Manoah and Alejandro Kirk, has always been there. But the Blue Jays enter this season with experience, “an excellent run preventer” in former Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, and the addition of Chris Bassitt to their rotation.
The Jays and rebuilding Orioles very well could play the role of spoilers this season in what is considered the most competitive in baseball.
“It’s always the toughest division,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “You look at the Rays’ rotation and just the way they’re able to piece together a roster, you know that they’re going to be really good. Obviously, the Blue Jays and the talent that they have and some of the moves they’ve made, they are going to be tough.
“Baltimore’s coming of age, and we got to see the start of some really good players emerging for them. And then Boston I think took a lot of heat (for not making major moves), but you look at a lot of the moves they made, they’ve got a lot of ballplayers over there and I think if they get the pitching, they’re going to be really good too.”
Though a couple of teams have recently come out of rebuilds, Boone doesn’t expect the division to be any less competitive this season than in any other.
“This is my sixth year and there’s been some teams in the division that have gone through the rebuild, like Baltimore, but they’re coming out of that now,” he said. “Toronto at the start was kind of going through their rebuild, but they are out of that. So, I think it’s going to be as tough as it’s been in my time here.”
Of course, Boone left out his reigning division champion Yankees, who re-signed newly crowned AL single-season home run king Aaron Judge for likely the rest of his career. They also added another ace in Carlos Rodon to an already strong rotation.
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“There are always going to be the elites,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “There’s always gonna be the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Rays, who always find a way. The Blue Jays have so much talent. They are all good teams, and the division is unbelievably competitive.
“I just know last year we took a huge step forward and were able to compete regularly with these really, really good clubs. And we have to keep taking steps to compete with these clubs. We’ve gotten a lot more talented, but they’re always really tough lineups to pitch to, and they always have big front end starters and usually tough bullpens.”
In past seasons, that meant the AL East teams beat up on each other. But with the new balanced schedules, they will have six fewer games against each other this year. That may be the best thing for the division, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.
“If any manager or GM in the AL East says they aren’t thrilled about it, they are lying,” Cora said with a laugh, “because we don’t want to play each other 19 times. So we’re all happy we’ll see each other just 16 times this season.”
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